Lead inspections neglected in nearly 10K buildings where kids were exposed: Stringer

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, center, reveals that an investigation by his office found that the city failed to perform lead inspections in nearly 10,000 buildings with documented child lead exposure. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Comptroller’s investigation says the lax approach lead to nearly 2,750 kids having elevated lead levels while living in buildings where the city was aware of hazards.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, center, reveals that an investigation by his office found that the city failed to perform lead inspections in nearly 10,000 buildings with documented child lead exposure.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, center, reveals that an investigation by his office found that the city failed to perform lead inspections in nearly 10,000 buildings with documented child lead exposure. Photo Credit: Michele Herrmann

Thousands of children have tested positive for lead exposure while living in buildings the city failed to inspect for the toxin despite previous reports that other kids living in them had been exposed, according to a new investigation.  

Between 2013 and late 2018, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development didn’t perform lead inspections in 9,671 buildings, where tests indicated 11,972 children had blood lead levels above the federal standard, according to a report released Thursday by Comptroller Scott Stringer. An additional 2,749 in those buildings have now tested positive for lead exposure.

“No amount of lead in a child’s blood is safe, no amount is tolerable and no amount is acceptable, period,” Stringer said at a news conference Thursday.

The investigation uncovered “a systemic breakdown in the system’s bureaucracy that let thousands of children fall through the cracks,” Stringer said in a release.

The city’s Department of Health had data pinpointing where children with elevated blood lead levels lived. But Stringer said HPD didn’t use that data, unless the test results triggered a probe under the city’s standards, which were previously lower than the federal guidelines.

HPD otherwise only launched investigations when tenants reported lead exposure, resulting in a “hit or miss” approach, according to Stringer. As a result, as many as 63 percent of the buildings under HPD’s jurisdiction that housed children exposed to lead were not inspected, according to the release.

Brooklyn was found to have six times more children exposed to lead than Manhattan during the investigation period, but the rate of inspection in Manhattan was more than 3 times higher than it was in Brooklyn, Stringer noted.

“The city shouldn’t require an invitation to look for lead,” stringer said.

For most of the five-year period, the city only launched an investigation into lead exposure when a child’s blood lead level tested above 15 micrograms per deciliter, according to Stringer’s office. That standard lagged “way behind” the federal action level of 5 micrograms per deciliter, Stringer noted.

The de Blasio administration adopted the federal standard for testing last year, and in January announced an initiative called LeadFreeNYC aimed at eliminating childhood lead exposure throughout the city.

At his news conference, Stringer maintained the city was “not even fully executing its own plan.”

“As it stands, LeadFreeNYC is simply not the aggressive approach we need,” Stringer said.

HPD and DOH referred requests for comment to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. De Blasio spokeswoman Jane Meyer said the city has reduced the number of kids exposed to lead by 90 percent since 2005.

"We identified all the areas the Comptroller mentions nearly a year ago as part of Lead Free NYC and have been inspecting the apartments and engaging any family with a child with elevated levels," Meyer said in a statement. "We already closed these gaps and are doing more than ever to keep kids safe.”

Maya Rajamani